View Full Version : Sandys' White Paper

12th May 2007, 14:08
(Originally posted under "Healey's White Paper" title, but I had the wrong name)

I've been doing some reading on 1940s/1950s British aviation and one item jumps out as a WTFO?

Sandys' White Paper regarding manned tactical aircraft - why would he put that out? Why did the UK government proceed along those lines?

Did the military chiefs protest - resign, etc? Did he ever admit he was wrong prior to his death?

Some absolutely stunning designs were just tossed aside, not to mention the gutting of the British aviation industry. Did those industries go quietly into the night or was there much of a public campaign to fight the White Paper?

Kieron Kirk
12th May 2007, 15:05
Sandys had a bee in his bonnet about missiles.
During the Second World War as a junior minister he was given the task of considering the threat posed by German V-1 and V-2 missiles.
Did the military chiefs protest? Did Sandys ever admit he was wrong?
The answers are no doubt subject to the "50 year rule", the relevant papers probably deemed too sensitive ever to be revealed.

12th May 2007, 20:55
Have a read of "Most Secret War" by R.V.Jones, good bits about Sandys

Brewster Buffalo
13th May 2007, 19:58
"I may have been wrong. That is your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

I'm sure he would be saying this..

The decision was reversed though some projects were cancelled.

Brian Abraham
15th May 2007, 04:42
It does not address Sandys no manned aircraft policy but Bill Watertons "The Quick and The Dead" has an epiloque titled "Why Britain Has Failed" and gives a little insight into the British aviation industry leading up to 1955 when the book was written.

What I have to say here is not directed against any individual or firm: it is intended as an overall indictment. For a parlous state of affairs exists throughout almost the entire airframe industry, and members of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors (together with Government officials, Services chiefs and civil servants) must share the burden of responsibility.

An individual firm is only publicly limelighted when a particular project, after enthusiastic advance publicity, is proved a failure. But virtually every firm has its unsung, discreetly hidden mistakes.

Many people knew, for example, that the Bristol Brabazon was an acknowledged flop before it was half completed. Money spent: a reputed twelve million pounds. There was the great Saunders Roe Princess flying boat let down by its engines, and written off for its original purpose at an estimated ten million pounds. A further twenty were said to have been spent on the Supermarine Swift. It was hailed as a world record beater, issued to the squadrons – then with drawn as a failure. Now it has been salvaged to appear in the role of a fighter reconnaissance aircraft.

But there have been others, to swell to even more gigantic proportions this figure of forty two million pounds – almost all of it public money.

Yet no major aircraft company has closed down since the war., irrespective of colossally expensive failures. Indeed, they would not be permitted to, for two reasons: politically it would be unsound to throw thousands of people out of work, and it would be strategically unwise to allow a firm to put up the shutters when, in a national emergency, it would need time to take them down again. And firms know this.

Illustrating this is the case of the post war fighter which neither the R.A.F. nor the Navy wanted. But it was built in quantity nevertheless because (and the story is an open secret) the manufacturing firm told the Ministry of Supply: Either we get an order or we close down.” Blackmail? An ugly word…

Nor is it easy, when an aircraft flops, for one man to be accused as the guilty party. He is only one cog in a gargantuan, creaking machine.

It all starts when the requirements for a new plane are drawn up by the Service or airline concerned. Since five to seven years will pass before the plane gets into service, considerable crystal ball gazing is inevitable. Needs are largely determined by (a) what the “other chap” is likely to put in the air at that time, and (b) what is possible technically and what manufacturers say they can do. Invariably (b) decides the day, irrespective of requirements or anything else.

Yet the industry is often defeatest in its estimation of what can be achieved technically – not surprising when it has failed to exploit the latest in tools, techniques, materials and ideas. I remember the R.A.F. asking for a clear vision cockpit canopy, only to be told it was impossible. None the less, American Sabres were flying at the time with just such canopies – not the vision restricting hoods of British fighters with their great area of metal. So fed up was the R.A.F. about this that the Central Fighter Establishment got their hands on a couple of Sabres, took a canopy from one, went to a contracting firm and set it on a fighter – just to show that it could be done.

This is no isolated case. Time and time again I have known the R.A.F. and M.O.S. to be told they could not have what they wanted – and they seemed powerless to do anything about it. (Subsidised by the Government, the aircraft companies are on a safe thing: whoever loses they win. They sit tight – and smug.) Emasculated by safe Government contracts, none of our manufacturers has had the courage to invest his money in a much needed light aircraft. In the same way, we have no helicopter to compare with the Americans’, and no proven long range civil airliner (with the exception of the Viscount and possibly the Britannia).

I digress…

When the customer has decided upon his needs, an official specification is issued to approved firms by the M.O.S. and those interested submit design studies from which usually two are chosen. They might be radically different from each other, as were de Havilland’s 110 and the Javelin, and the Vulcan and Victor, or remarkably similar, like the Swift and Hunter. For insurance reasons (and to keep the industry busy) both firms are set to build prototypes, and the orders go out for ancillary equipment. (Here, as I have said, there is a strong argument for standardization : time and money could well be saved if a strong directive urged – and challenged – firms to wrap their shapes and new ideas round common wheels, brakes, generators, etc. – as they do engines and armament.)

At this stage, and tbroughout, payment is made for design work, materials, tools and tooling, jigs, development work, flying, modifications and changes. An order is guaranteed for production, and to the lot is added overheads – often a hundred percent. – plus a fixed profit. This is known as “cost plus” and the more the cost the more the plus. Tools and buildings are loaned or rented to firms and if contracts are slashed or “planes unsuitable the firm is paid compensation.

Within three to six months of its first flight, the general pattern of the prototypes’s behaviour and performance is usually determined. This is something that cannot be rushed, for although the customer ought to come into the picture early on, a firm must be granted a reasonable period in which to make necessary modifications: a project that starts badly might work out well and vice versa. But no more than a year should be needed and firms made to work to that deadline. At the end of those twelve months there is no reason why one of the two prototypes could not be selected – although not by examining the results and figures presented by the manufacturers, as often happens now. Instead, it should be done as we did it a Central Fighter Establishment –by the practical method of flying one plane against the other in side-by-side climbs, accelerations, decelerations, dives, tail-chasing turns and rolls, with camera guns firing. After such trials there would be no doubt of comparative performances, for even mock attacks are a thousand percent more reliable than paper figures and individual tests. Yet, incredibly, these vital and logical trials do not come until a ‘plane is actually in production.

Shortage of prototypes is another time-wasting bugbear, for if you lose one or two very special aeroplanes, as we did with the Javelin, progress is delayed for months – even years. Recently Air Chief Marshal Sir John Baker, the C.A. (Controller Air) pointed out that twenty English Electric P.1’s had been ordered to speed development. Had the new prototypes come along at regular, frequent intervals of, say, three months in the first place, it would have been something to shout about, but the second did not arrive until about a year after the first – the same as in the past.

Once the new aircraft has been selected, the other should be dropped without more ado – unless it has qualities to suit it for some special role. Both firms should then concentrate on producing the new plane; the winner’s design staff dealing with technical problems and changes as they arise, the loser’s getting to work on fresh designs for the future. As things stand, only the winning firm produces the new plane, while the other ambles along often manufacturing old stuff contracted to keep the workshops occupied. Otherwise, both are given orders for their separate planes resulting in double sets of costly jigs, tools, ancillary equipment and testing for minute production quantities. This is presently happening in the case of the Victor and Vulcan, making for high costs per production unit and duplication headaches in R.A.F. stores, ground equipment and training, both flying and technical.

Let the design staff admit their faults, and if too many occur, break them up and install people who are competent. Faults are common to all new aircraft, and are nothing to be ashamed of. Let there be an end to this business of “getting by” ignoring what the test pilots and ground servicing people say, and covering up. It should not be necessary to wait until someone is killed, or until faults are spotlighted in service and planes grounded (en masse), before modifications are made.

The trouble is that few British firms understand development work. A new prototype is built - and that is pretty well that. Consequently our production aircraft do not fly at all as well as they should, and are rarely little changed from their first prototypes. The users get 50 percent, aeroplanes instead of 90 per cent, aeroplanes. We could learn here from the Americans. They ran into serious trouble with their Super-Sabre, and their Convair Delta F102 was badly down in performance. Yet within three months the Sabre was comprehensively altered - given a redesigned tail, controls and wingtips – and was out of its troubles. The 102’s faults were corrected with equal hustle. Britain has demonstrated nothing to compare with these methods. Witness the Comet, for example: a brilliant conception, let down by its aerodynamics, engineering and handling – nothing like a 100 per cent aeroplane. Externally, the Javelin, Hunter or 110 have hardly altered since prototype days. There has been no wasp waisting to make them conform to the area rule and so raise speeds by up to 25 per cent.

Under existing arrangements, the people who design the planes are usually responsible for their development and, like proud parents who have produced a misfit, they are reluctant to admit the fact, and are furious when other people criticise. As I see it, when a prototype flies it should be taken right out of the hands of the designers (who thereafter become no more than consultants) and passed to fresh minds, dedicated to making the plane efficient as quickly as possible, regardless of all other considerations.

The Services blame the M.O.S. when the right aircraft do not arrive in the required numbers at the proper time. It is true that the Ministry has much to answer for, but the Services cannot claim not to know what is going on. Both the Navy and Air Force have officers attached to the Ministry, and an airman is Controller Air. He is responsible for ordering and for controlling testing and development, and since he has a seat on the Air Council, that body can hardly plead ignorance of the stage of the new aircraft and their faults. The R.A.F. and Navy may not be getting the aircraft they want – but they seem to be keeping pretty quiet about it.

These are some of the factors contributing to the overall picture of the muddle, inefficiency and lethargy which are in varying degrees responsible for Britain being almost an also ran in the aircraft stakes. It is doubted that we do only just manage to scrape into third place – trailing behind America and Russia – consider how their development had leapt ahead. Both have produced in quantity fighters which can “break the sound barrier” in level flight, and heavy bombers are in service twice as big as our largest. Soon a United States’ bomber the size of our V-class machines is to be flown at supersonic speed in level flight, and the Americans have flown 500 m.p.h. faster than any Briton, and a good deal higher. The Americans claim, further, that they have four fighter aircraft capable of winning back any new record our P.1 could set up, and knowing a considerable amount of both sides’ claims, I do not doubt the United States’ boast. We have dropped flying-boats while the Americans have progressed with advanced designs, and there is the lack of helicopters and light planes to which I have referred.

With safe Government contracts, our manufacturers lack the incentive of real private enterprise to challenge the Americans and Russians. In all but name and the distribution of profits, they are already nationalised in a way. Nor is there the incentive of pride – the pride of airmen – for the heads of the industry are almost exclusively financiers, accountants and businessmen. (One notable exception is Rolls-Royce, where the executives are engineers first and administrators second). Experience has led me to believe that heads of firms fear the return of a Labour government and the threat of nationalisation, and so argue, “The Socialists will have the lot so let’s grab what we can while the going is good”. They have further covered themselves by pouring money into overseas plans. And remember – an aeroplane factory is equipped to manufacture many articles, so the change-over can cope with a variety of circumstances, especially overseas.

One thing is certain: the firms have not ploughed back the money they should have done. A walk through a British aircraft factory and then an American or Canadian one would soon prove this point. By comparisons our firms are back-alley garages. Even though some of our groups and enterprises boast of over 60,000 employees, they are composed of a mass of small units, more often than not working against each other or duplicating each other’s efforts. There is not one firm in Britain, which could manufacture planes of the size of the defunct Brabazon in quantity. What firm here has the plant or tools to build the one hundred-plus giant airliners ordered from Douglas ? They lack the vast presses, stretch presses, milling machines, shapers, drop hammers, and even the abundance of small hand – power tools of North America, and as a result we are building planes almost identically in the way we did fifteen or twenty years ago, despite the revolutionary demands of the jet age. Javelins are built in much the same way as Spitfires, and there are none of the heavy rolled or milled “skins” used in America, and only a token use of titanium. And, this delay of the airframe structural revolution hinders and limits aerodynamacists and designers.

This modernizing of our factories is a priority task, for as things stand we cannot introduce even existing American designs – far less think of progressing ahead; we haven’t the means of transferring them to the production belt.

Not only have we failed to keep pace on the engineering side, but we are way behind on the aerodynamics which dictate the shape of new aeroplanes. For years few companies, for instance, had their own wind tunnels, Farnborough did most of this work and, not unnaturally, was overloaded, with the result that many tests were left undone. High speed and supersonic tunnels are still at a premium. The lack of these tunnels has meant the absence of much important research, and we have tried to muddle through by guess and by God. Logically, such methods are impractical in the jet age. When the United States sent her pilots through the sound barrier for the first time, the flyers knew, from ground missile and wind tunnel tests, what to expect. Our chaps still have to “suck it and see” when exploring new ground.

The Government has been blamed for our lack of full-scale research facilities, and although it is true that they have passively done nothing to shake things up, it must not be forgotten that the industry, operating on public money, has made vast profits in the past ten years, and insufficient of it has been ploughed back for this purpose.

So we see that in both research and engineering facilities we are way behind current requirements, and there is yet another factor to consider; personnel.

There are keen brains and excellent engineers and aerodynamicists in the aircraft industry. There are also many deadbeats – a hangover from the war and pre-war years; people, many in responsible positions, who are hopelessly out of their depths, and who are doing their damnedest to see that no one who knows his stuff is likely to reach a position where their shortcomings will be laid bare. They exist at all levels, from director to labourer, and they haven’t done a decent day’s work for years. With many it is politics, first last and always – not “ is this the best way to do the job; will this produce the best possible aeroplane quickly and cheaply?”, but “how is it going to affect me and how much can we sting the Ministry”?

So the good men are kept down – even forced out - by the bad. Pay, too, is generally far from generous. Only recently an employer said to me: “We’re trying desperately to get aerodynamicists, but they’ve got the nerve to want a thousand a year.” During the war the industry was able to get all the brains it wanted, and cheaply; today the mathematicians go elsewhere – to football pools firms, for example. Even a chief aerodynamicist, the man who determines, lays out and advises on the shapes and sizes of aircraft and their parts, often receives little more than fifteen hundred pounds a year. Ten thousand would not be overpayment for a first-class man. To my mind this is one of our biggest failings. Directors baulk at the thought of any one individual under them getting big money. They revolt at paying two competent experts fifty pounds each per week, yet cheerfully pay ten incompetents fifteen to twenty pounds per week to muddle along and accomplish nothing.

There, then, are the main reasons for Britain’s failure; the smugness of firms who initiative has been destroyed by safe Government contracts….Dilatory and inefficient methods and the lack of proper organization…. A failure to understand development work…. Lethargy on the part of the R.A.F. and Ministry of Supply….The shortage of engineering and research facilities…. The choking effect of lay-abouts and hangers-on….A general tight-fistedness in the wrong direction which, among other things, prevents the industry from obtaining and retaining, the best brains available. Last and most important is the failure at all levels to think and act big.

How is the situation to be remedied? As things stand no one at a sufficiently high level anywhere has the guts enough to stand up and call the cards. No Service chief has yet risked his rank by revealing the truth. Nor has any M.O.S. official. One or two M.Ps. often hit the nail on the head, but the situation demands far more than lone voices from the Opposition back bench.

I feel that nothing less than a Royal Commission will do to investigate thoroughly the aircraft industry and the procurement of aircraft – one whose findings will not be hidden by dust and quietly forgotten, but a body whose conclusions will be acted upon without delay. For the sands are running out.

The aircraft industry, the M.O.S., the Services, air transport firms, airlines, all need looking into. Indeed, so does the nations’s whole aviation policy, for there are too many sectarian interests at work in divergent ways. A strong man is required, for only by ruthless measures will things be changed. If the Services do not get what they want they must say so – and the responsibility laid fairly and squarely at someone’s door. Contracts for specifications, price and delivery must be honoured. If a firm fails, let it fail and be taken over as a national arsenal. The industry talks private enterprise; very well., let it take the risks of private enterprise as well as the profits.

There is nothing wrong with British air matters that honesty, frankness ruthlessness in the right quarters, and hard work, cannot put right; but it must start at the very top, or a lead must be given from the very top. The well being of the entire nation is above that of individuals and firms.

15th May 2007, 07:18
Unfortunately the Sandys policy had no effect on the overall outcome, indeed it seems things have got no better and in the case of lead time for introduction to service seem infinitely worse.
The Waterton piece does set the context nicely which of course is hugely important, however Sandys was pushing the industry into an area in which it had even less experience than manned high speed flight. Still the same problems with design teams and facilities compounded by the additional problems of guidance, manouvering stress, mass production, target identification, exotic materials, rocket and ramjet propulsion etc.
Perhaps future generations will regard Sandys as a prophet before his time?:rolleyes:

henry crun
15th May 2007, 10:22
Whatever the reason, and we were never told that I can recall, the white paper came like a bolt from the blue to those of us directly affected.

The squadron I was on were told, "no flying tomorrow, an important neddy is coming down from air ministry to address us."

We thought we were going to be congratulated for achieving an accident free year, but we were told to to disband the squadron !

Many of the squadrons that were disbanded had healthy squadron funds, likewise with some of the stations that were closed down.
There seemed to be only one sensible course of action to dispose of all this money; so an unintended result of the white paper was series of massive parties. :)

15th May 2007, 16:18
Duncan Sandys ruined my day! I was the only pilot posted to Hunters out of the eleven who graduated from 111 Vampire course, Swinderby in August 1957. I was posted to Valley, where RN pilots were being trained on Vampires, to hold until my Chivenor course started in December. A couple of months later my Hunter course was cancelled to make way for Indian Air Force pilots. I became a very disillusioned young man on a Hastings second pilot couse.

Tim Mills
17th May 2007, 06:04
I can certainly sympathise, brakedwell. I was all set to do a Hunter tour down in the Zone after my posting at Sylt, as some of the other PAIs had done. Squadron, dates and everything, but suddenly no more squadron, no more steely eyed Hunter tour. CFS not quite the same. I must have arrived at Swinderby about the same time you were leaving.

As an aside, I remember sitting in my Meatbox on the ORP with three others, at Horsham St Faith, in about 53, waiting to be scrambled to intercept B29s or something, during some exercise or another, when said gentleman and his entourage arrived on the ORP as well, no doubt to see what the gallant Fighter Command was up to. They all looked bored, so were we, I waggled my ailerons at him to cheer him up, but even that didn't convince him that pilots were necessary! Can't remember if we eventually were scrambled- hope so.